Satan’s imps charge forth with obtuse tenacity

far-side-hell

Those that believe in a hell often imagine it in myriad different ways.

Spend any time driving in traffic, shopping around the holidays or at the Department of Motor Vehicles and one becomes convinced of Sartre’s famous quip that “hell is other people.”

Along those lines, the question then arises, are there specific pockets of hell for the particularly nasty?

If so, those sentenced to such locales will be tormented by former homeowners’ association presidents and the passionately ignorant, not that the two are mutually exclusive.

Candidates for my own version of hell reared their heads recently in Hilton Head, SC, a resort island along the coast noted for a heavy population of northern transplants, a strict adherence to conformity and the general busybody nature of many of its residents.

One of the gated communities in the area is called Hilton Head Plantation. It has a section called The Rookery where, for nearly a decade, one homeowner has flown a variety of historic flags during certain holidays, including the most recent Presidents’ Day.

The flags included a POW/MIA flag, a South Carolina flag from the Civil War era (not a Confederate flag), and the Grand Union and Gadsden flags from the American Revolutionary War era.

In a move absolutely no one could have foreseen given the hyper-sensitive nature of many in the US, several complaints were lodged after the most recent flying of the flags during Presidents’ Day, on Feb. 20, according to the Hilton Head Island Packet.

“Peter Kristian, general manager of the gated community, said his office received several complaints recently from residents upset about the flags,” the paper reported.
“Some of them had slogans that you could take to be political,” Kristian said.

“Unfortunately in the times we live in, you have to be careful about this,” he said. “Once you open the door to one person’s expressions, you open the door to all expressions and that can be dangerous.”

Yes, expression can be dangerous, especially on an island that is essentially a retirement community for the state of Ohio.

Kristian would not identify which flag or flags was deemed offensive. However, he could have been referring to the Gadsden Flag, also known as the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, a favorite of Tea Party advocates, known for being conservative and often Republican.

The Gadsden flag was designed by South Carolinian Christopher Gadsden in 1775 at the opening of the American Revolution and was used as an early flag by Continental Marines, the marine force of the American Colonies.

Kristian, in a real display of intestinal fortitude, stated that there is one flag that residents are allowed to put out on plantation property without asking permission.

“We did say they could display as many American flags as they would like,” he said. “We do live in the United States, and I hope that is the one thing we are all OK with.”

In other words, “I hope that is the one thing we are all OK with, but if not, let us know and we will take it down because, well, everyone has the right not to be offended.”

Another image of hell is that inhabited by individuals described in Yeats’s work The Second Coming:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

(Top: Far Side cartoon about hell unrelated in any fashion to story, but good for a much-needed laugh.)

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Savannah’s Methuselah, sloppy mind or stonecutter’s mistake?

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Claims to amazing longevity are not only legion, they go back thousands of years. Methuselah is noted in the bible for having lived 969 years; Jimmu, alleged to be the first emperor of Japan, was said to have survived more than 125 years; and the Soviet Union claimed that as of 1960 it had 100 citizens between the ages of 120 and 156.

Science, though, recognizes France’s Jeanne Calment (1875–1997), who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days, as the longest-lived person, at least that can be verified. She lived three years longer than the runner-up, Sarah Knauss of the US, who died in 1999 at 119.

So it was some skepticism that I read the wording on the tombstone of Laurence Dunphey, located in Savannah’s Catholic Cemetery:

“Sacred

to the Memory of

Laurence Dunphey

A Native of Clonmel

County of Tipperary Ireland

who departed this life

December 17th 1834,

aged 145 years”

Were the information on Dunphey’s gravestone correct, it would mean he had been born in 1689, the year before the Battle of the Boyne, fought between English King James II and the Dutch Prince William of Orange. William and his wife Mary had overthrown James in 1688.

The battle, fought near the town of Drogheda on the east coast of Ireland, about 100 miles from Clonmel, resulted in a victory for William, curtailed James’s bid to retaken the English throne and aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. It is still a point of pride today with Protestants in Northern Ireland, the more low brow of whom use it as occasion to attempt to whip up anti-Catholic feeling.

Box vault of Laurence Dunphey in Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Ga. Note Southern Cross of Honor in front of grave, apparently depicting belief that Dunphey, who died in 1834 at the purported age of 145, also managed to fight in the US Civil War (1861-65).

Box vault of Laurence Dunphey in Catholic Cemetery, Savannah, Ga. Note Southern Cross of Honor in front of grave, apparently depicting belief that Dunphey, who died in 1834 at the purported age of 145, also managed to fight in the US Civil War (1861-65).

Georgia itself wasn’t established as a British colony until 1733, when Dunphey would purportedly have been 44 years old.

Of course, it’s almost a certainty that Dunphey was not 145 when he died in 1834. It’s possible Dunphey was old, even very old when he died, but it’s more likely that a mistake was made by someone somewhere along the line.

While some Irish immigrants had moved into Georgia from South Carolina in the 18th century and there were Irish who came with founder James Oglethorpe when he arrived in Savannah in 1733, the first wave of Irish immigration directly into Savannah came in the 1830s, with the arrival of individuals to help build the Central Rail Road and Canal Co., later the Central of Georgia Railway.

Had Dunphey immigrated with the very earliest settlers to Georgia, he probably would have been recognized as such as his death; it seems implausible that he chose to leave his homeland and come over with the first major wave of Irish immigrants at the age of 140-plus.

A writer for the Catholic Diocese of Savannah speculated that Dunphey’s age was probably inscribed on his gravestone by “bored Union soldiers” during or just after the War Between the States.

However, the lettering appears identical across the marker, meaning that unless the Federal soldier-turned-mischievous stonemason opted to remake an entire marble slab, it’s almost certain that the grave marker was made shortly after Dunphey’s death.

Two possibilities:

  • Dunphey was very elderly, but uncertain of his age, and he or his family either really believed that he was 145, or, in his family’s case, did so to humor him. In an era when time was much more fluid, mistakes regarding age, even of several decades, weren’t unheard of;
  • There is also the possibility that the stonemason working on Dunphey’s marker simply made a mistake, carving “145” instead of, say, “45.” And given that there’s no “reset” button when you’re working with stone, you get what you get.

Whatever the real story behind the age of Laurence Dunphey – County Tipperary native, US immigrant and long-dead Irish Catholic – he’s managed to achieve a small bit of immortality, no matter how long he really lived.

Fact or fiction: Veteran forsakes past for family

leonard l. bleeker

Old-time newspapers were notorious for printing articles that were long on fanciful stories but often short on verifiable facts.

As such, many curious stories that appeared in papers a century or more ago have to be read with a skeptical eye. Readers then, as today, would view information in printed form at face value, when in reality it was a fraud, whether purposeful or accidental.

In fairness to the folks of the past, researching the validity of printed information was a good bit harder.

Not only was there no Internet to employ for fact-checking, but books were much scarcer, especially among the lower classes, libraries were an anomaly outside big cities and competition among newspapers often meant that outlandish stories were run “as is” and sometimes even further embellished, to get a leg up on rivals.

So when I came across the following story in the July 26, 1899, edition of the Fairfield News and Herald, a Winnsboro, S.C., newspaper, it both caught my attention and raised my suspicions.

The death of Leonard B. Bleeker aged 72 years which recently occurred at Yates Centre, Kas., has revealed a case of self-sacrifice seldom heard of outside the domain of fiction. Three years ago Bleeker went to that country peddling cheap articles and, too old and weary to proceed farther, a kind hearted farmer took him in and cared for him until he died. To the family which befriended him he told the story of his life, reserving for the grave the specific names of persons and localities. He stated that in 1861 he left a wife and five children in Michigan and answered the first call for volunteers. The fortunes of war were against him and for months he lay a prisoner in Andersonville prison. For some reason he was led to believe that a certain other batch of prisoners would soon be exchanged. Among them was a dying man and the two comrades exchanged names and military designations. The soldier died and the death was reported as that of Leonard B. Bleeker, and is so recorded in the war department. The real Bleeker was released after a time, rejoined his regiment and served until the close of the war without communicating with his family. Then he went back and found his wife married to another man. He ascertained that his children were well cared for and then left the community without revealing his identity. Throughout his life he carefully guarded his secret and since going to Yates Centre, was often urged to apply for a pension, but stoutly refused. Even when near death he would not reveal the location of his former home or permit anyone to communicate with old associate(s). He was a man of more than ordinary education and the truth of his story or the possession of a noble purpose in his long sacrifice cannot be doubted.

Indeed, the entire story seems utterly fanciful to us today. But a few things to consider:

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Reality strips away some of Civil War’s glory

Cold_Harbor_burial_party

American Civil War aficionados marking the sesquicentennial of the conflict are gearing up to remember what was probably the bloodiest year of the 1861-65 struggle.

From Grant’s Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg to the Red River Campaign, the Atlanta Campaign and year-end battles at Franklin and Nashville, 1864 was one long year of attrition in which a seemingly endless supply of Union forces ground down their Confederate counterparts.

By year-end, the war was within a few months of being over, though that fact was hardly evident at the time.

While the War Between the States was heavily covered by journalists – both US and foreign – by the spring of 1865 reporters were as eager as soldiers to return to their homes.

Given that Southern newspapers were in short supply due to war devastation and Northern papers were busy focusing on happenings in Washington DC following the end of the conflict, there was little actually being written about what life was like in the immediate aftermath in many of the battle-ravaged areas.

Boston writer John Townsend Trowbridge was dispatched south in the fall of 1865 with an interesting mission: Travel the scenes of the recent conflict and describe battlefields, the plight of the Southern people, the mood of the region and the condition of recently freed blacks.

First published in 1866 under the title A Picture of the Desolated States and the Work of Restoration, Trowbridge’s work has been reissued under different titles, including The Desolate South: 1865-1866, and, simply, The South.

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The ill-fated SC silkworm experiment of 1866

silkworms

Prior to the War Between the States South Carolina’s Fairfield County was among the most prosperous areas in the state and the nation.

A good part of this wealth, it should be noted, was in the form of slaves.

According to U.S. Census data, Fairfield County population’s in 1860 included 15,534 slaves. A decade later not only were all those individuals freed, but the county’s population of blacks had decreased by 9 percent, to approximately 14,100.

In addition to the above loss of “property,” Union troops had done severe damage to the county seat of Winnsboro, burning much of the city in the waning days of February 1865, shortly after having laid waste Columbia, S.C., to the west.

So by the following year, with many of the county’s able-bodied white males dead or crippled from the war, a significant percentage of former slaves having moved from the area and general destitution evident throughout the region, residents were desperate.

One plan hatched was to try to create a silk industry in Fairfield County.

Katharine Theus Obear, writing in 1940 at age 88 in Through the Years in Old Winnsboro, recalled that a supply of silkworms were acquired and distributed to individuals in the county.

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Technology helps preserve Fort Moultrie guns

fort moultrie guns

Federal forces spent four years trying to silence Confederate guns on Fort Moultrie, but the massive iron weapons face just as formidable a foe today: the environment.

To protect the 10 historic siege and garrison guns still located at the Sullivans Island fortification, preservationists have turned to technology, including computer sensors, in a bid to defend them from the salt and humidity omnipresent along the South Carolina coast.

The guns of Fort Moultrie are of particular historical significance because they were among the weapons that were used to fire on Fort Sumter April 12-13, 1861, officially beginning the War Between the States.

“The last of the guns, a 7-ton Union rifled Parrott gun suspended in a yellow sling held by a crane, was slowly jockeyed into place onto a new concrete base last week,” according to The Associated Press. “It completes what the fort refers to as Cannon Row, where seven of the heavy guns are lined up next to each other.”

The conservation work, which included coating nearly all the guns in rust-retarding epoxy, is being done through a collaborative effort between the National Park Service and Clemson University’s Restoration Institute.

The price tag for the multi-year conservation effort is $900,000.

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Trivializing death for fun and profit

That a Frederick, Md., brewery recently bottled its first batch of beer from a Civil War-era recipe and is now distributing is testament to the creativity of American business. What better time to recreate an alcoholic beverage from the 1860s than the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, right?

What’s troubling is the apparent lack of respect the Moncacy Brewing Co. is showing for the event to which it’s tying its product.

The first of nine ales to be released by Monocacy in commemoration of the 1861-65 conflict is called “Antietam Ale” and marks the Sept. 17, 1862, battle near Sharpsburg, Md., that resulted in 23,000 casualties.

According to the label of Antietam Ale:

“The Battle of Antietam changed the course of the Civil War, helped free over 4 million Americans and still ranks as the bloodiest single day in American history.”

In reality, only that last of those three statements is true. While Antietam is still the bloodiest single day in US history, it didn’t change the course of the war nor did it help free more than 4 million enslaved blacks.

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